Activism

Pubs and cafes promise help after MPs reject child food poverty campaign

Footballer Marcus Rashford had called on MPs to extend the free school meals programme as part of his Child Food Poverty Taskforce

Newham Council will keep its universal free school meals scheme

School lunch staff and students enjoy the new menu at the Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, VA., on Friday, September 7, 2012. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Cafes, shops, pubs, and councils across the UK have promised to step in after MPs rejected an appeal to end child food poverty.

Dozens of businesses said they would open their doors to the poor and hungry following the rejection of a campaign from Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to extend the free school meal programme.

The England striker’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce had urged the Government to provide free school meals until at least Easter 2021 and include another 1.5 million children between the ages of seven and 16. 

Labour put forward a motion to extend the programme in Parliament but it was rejected by 322 votes to 216.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the campaign in the hours before the vote, claiming vulnerable families were already receiving enough money from the Government’s Universal Credit benefits system. 

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Millions have turned to Universal Credit as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic worsens, but the system has been widely criticised for not providing families with enough to live on and forcing many into debt as they wait to receive support.

Dozens of businesses and social enterprises have vowed to provide food to children where the government won’t, many of which Rashford shared on his Twitter account.

“It really does take a village to raise a child,” wrote The Whitley Bait Sandwich and Coffee Bar in Whitley Bay on Facebook. “So that’s why we will provide a free packed lunch to any child who needs it, at any time.

“If you could benefit from this please reach out to us, your request will never be met with questions or judgement.”

And the Pabna Indian restaurant in Leek, near Stoke-on-Trent, wrote: “We are now a solid seven months into this pandemic and the country has officially been put into recession.

“If anyone is not working, not getting paid, has had their hours cut and runs out of food or necessities, or times are just tough, please don’t you or your kids go to sleep on an empty stomach. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to send us a private message. We will do anything we can to help. 

“It may simply be a case of dropping off a food parcel and leaving. No one has to know and where others are concerned, it never happened.”

Local councils including Liverpool, Doncaster, and Redbridge, as well as the London borough councils for Southwark and Hammersmith and Fulham, have also promised to provide meals to those in need.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson wrote on Twitter: “Families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. No child should have to go hungry and in Liverpool we won’t let them. 

“Thanks for your hard work and campaigning @MarcusRashford.”

Rashford shared dozens of the messages with his 3.4 million followers on Twitter.

After the vote was rejected late on October 21, Rashford called on the Prime Minister to sit down with his campaign team and find a way to fight child food poverty in the UK.

“These children are the future of this country,” Rashford continued. “They are not just another statistic. And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that.”

Image credit: US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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